In this The Ascent Review Impressions, we’ll take a deep dive into the new Action-shooter RPG, which is set in a dystopian cyberpunk world. The Ascent is Neon Giant’s debut into the RPG scene and it’s available on PC via Steam and Xbox Game Pass, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. Is The Ascent worth checking out? Should you immediately buy it on the day of its release? We’ll talk about all of these and much more so read on to find out!
The Ascent Review Impressions: A Cyberpunk World Worth Exploring
- Genre: Action-shooter RPG
- Developed by: Neon Giant
- Published by: Curve Digital
- Release date: July 29th, 2021
- Platforms: PC (Code Provided by Neon Giant), Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
- Price at the time of review: 29.99 USD
The Ascent Review Impressions: Story and Setting
The Ascent takes place in a huge, bustling and busy metropolis that transcends high into the skies, with each tier divided in accordance with its inhabitants’ social classes. For instance, The Warrens is the one of the lower tiers, which is the most densely-packed area. You’ll notice heaps of garbage in several areas coupled with rusty metal floors and poorly-constructed makeshift vendor stalls.
When you ascend to the high Street, which is the next tier, you’ll see glaring improvements in the city. It’s spacious and modern in terms of the design, although some locations are still a bit overcrowded.
The entire arcology together with its respective districts is run by the Ascent Group or the largest corporation on Planet Veles. Everything is owned by them including you, an indent, which is another fancier word for slave. Despite performing menial jobs nobody else wants to do, creatures from all over the galaxy continue to dream of living in this dark and dangerous cyberpunk metropolis until the day they die or fulfill the terms of their contracts.
All of a sudden, a series of dismal events and power plays start to unfold involving multiple factions, which consequently impacts the societal structures of Veles. These catastrophes began right after the collapse of the Ascent Group leaving behind a huge power vacuum in its wake while letting everyone else fend for themselves. This is where your journey as an indent begins. You’ll be going on missions to find out how districts are coping and to ultimately identify the root cause of what brought this mega corporation down to its knees.
Let’s first talk about The Ascent’s main missions. The plot takes you to interesting places while introducing questionable creatures in power. It makes you think about engaging ideas related to advanced technologies, the destructive effects of a powerful corporation’s downfall to its subjects, and several party’s thirst for power. Such stories will certainly keep you playing because of how well it integrates into the game’s setting. However, only completing the main missions would leave you with an incomplete experience of what The Ascent is all about.
Although you’ll be able to venture to major locations and unlock a couple of narrative entries to piece the puzzles together, you’ll miss out on what makes the game charming. Examples include the rest of its quirky characters, their eccentric problems, and absurd tasks that’ll make you wonder why you even accepted those side missions to begin with.
As you take on and complete more missions, you’ll unlock additional information in the Codex. The Codex provides you with in-depth backgrounds of the locations you’ve visited, cyberpunk and tech lore, bios of major power players, the strengths and weaknesses of enemies, and Equipment manufacturers. This is also another reason why it’s best to finish as many missions as possible because it definitely adds to the flavor and world-building aspect of The Ascent.
Despite these intricacies, don’t expect to play an RPG where you’ll get to make impactful choices that alter the course of the plot. The only decisions you’ll concern yourself with is if you’ll accept a mission or not. This, alongside the game’s linear campaign, doesn’t diminish the excitement brought about by discovering and knowing more about the dystopian world made worse by the Ascent Group’s collapse.
The Ascent Review Impressions: Gameplay and Combat
Within a few minutes of The Ascent’s introduction, you’ll find yourself descending into one of the arcology’s bottom-most tiers or the deepStink. As you go down on what appears to be the remnants of an elevator, you’ll begin to create your character by customizing their physical traits. You have gender, face, body ink designs that span from your face all the way to your bicep, as well as weapon skins.
It’s not nearly as elaborate as other RPGs like Cyberpunk 2077 where you’re able to tweak most of your facial features, and is just enough to get the job done.
Later on, you’ll eventually come across an NPC known as the Grafter who can change any of these customizations for free to match your current style based on the Armor you wear. While this is good, I would’ve wished to have some degree of camera control so I can zoom into my character and clearly view, say, the weapon skins I’ve chosen for my guns.
The Classless System
Next, we have The Ascent’s Classless System, which is the foundation of its RPG elements. Instead of choosing from a list of predefined classes, you’ll create your very own from scratch. Every time you level up, you gain 3 Skill Points to allocate among several Skills like Weapon Handling that speeds up your reload and Weapon swap times. Or you can choose to beef up your max HP with Vital Signs to improve your survivability.
These Skills influence four Attributes, namely Cybernetics, Motorics, Biometrics and Frame. In turn, Attributes determine the effectiveness and efficiency of your Augmentations or special abilities. This is where it gets exciting since you’re able to equip up to two Augmentations that significantly alter your playstyle. For instance, you can choose to primarily wield a Shotgun to pair it with Hydraulic Slam, which is a suitable ability for melee encounters that obliterates multiple encroaching enemies at once. As long as your Motorics Attribute is high enough based on the Motorics Skills you enhance, the damage you deal with this Augmentation is much greater.
This is just an example of the builds you can come up with as there are a lot of other Augmentations that you can obtain from completing missions and exploring Veles.
Combat and Difficulty
In terms of combat, The Ascent is a top-down, high action, twin-stick shooter that heavily utilizes cover systems. These are designed to encourage players to momentarily catch their breath in the heat of combat. Due to the cover’s destructible nature, and I can’t emphasize this enough, you shouldn’t stay hidden behind it for more than a few seconds, otherwise, you’ll die.
The cover system is a deviation from other twin-stick shooters like Helldivers. In this game, you’ll be shooting as many targets as possible out in the open. Additionally, going up against enemies can be frustrating at times since they often attack in large numbers. Forgetting to switch to better Weapons and Armor can lead to your downfall because they’ll flank and follow you around until they kill you.
The Ascent has a lot of enemy types, some of which will catch you off your guard due to what they’re capable of doing. For example, there’s the Turbo Thugs who will chase you down the street and hit you with their modified baseball bats. Or the more advanced foes like the Combat Hackers who specialize in tech to send aggressive drones while creating shields to defend themselves from incoming attacks. This variety is what makes combat highly engaging and fun because you’ll never run out of multiple enemies to fight.
Conversely, it may also pose a problem for some due to the game’s imbalanced difficulty spikes. Difficulty doesn’t scale to your level and is largely dependent on the enemies and bosses you face as well as the Equipment you wield. Furthermore, there’s no mode to select from that makes the game any easier or more challenging so you’re left to adjust your gear as needed. In other words, it’s git gud or die trying.
Equipment plays a huge part in The Ascent because it has a huge influence on your character’s sheer strength, power and build. On top of the Augmentations you equip for special abilities, you also have Tactical Gear, which functions similarly. With Tactical Gear, you select the best grenade, turret or robot that’ll help you win fights. To charge and to activate it, you’ll need to deal damage. You’ll also have your Cyberdeck, which helps you hack through systems to gain uCreds or money as well as to obtain more loot.
When it comes to Weapons, you’ll need the help of the Gunsmith to upgrade these. With Basic, Advanced and Superior Components, you’ll be able to increase its overall damage. On the other hand, the strength of your Armor is based on its rarity. The more rare it is, the better. There are no sets to collect so it’ll be up to you to try out multiple gear to fit your playstyle.
Furthermore, loot, aside from health and energy pickups, is fixed, which means that you’ll always find them in the same locations. There are no random Equipment to chase after unlike in other ARPGs like Diablo and that’s ok. It doesn’t diminish the thrill of finding, upgrading and buying better Equipment.
The Ascent Review Impressions: Audio, Visual and Design
Next up is The Ascent’s audio in terms of the sound effects, music and voice overs. I must say that the sound effects and music are fantastic. Each Weapon’s shot sounds distinctly different from the rest. A Shotgun is more impactful and therefore louder at close range compared to the Pistol, while not sounding as effective when moving away from the enemy.
And it doesn’t end with Weapons since you also hear booming and rich sounds coming from explosions as a result of Augmentations and Tactical Gear. What makes each encounter meaningful and exciting is The Ascent’s high tempo and electronic music, which blends very well with the fast action-paced combat.
Although the voice overs were good, there wasn’t too much dialogue present in the game. However, the overall soundtrack more than compensates for this. The ambitious audio quality fleshes out the game’s cyberpunk theme while drawing attention to its dystopian atmosphere. It’s certainly a feast for the ears!
Similar to the audio, The Ascent’s art styles and visuals are both wonderfully designed. Each piece of Equipment is hand-crafted with its customized art assets and descriptions. Additionally, exploring more of the world is amazing, as each place looks and feels unique. There’s once again the apparent distinction of social classes when you go up and down the tiers with the use of space and the types of structure that’s built in these spaces.
The lower you go, the more crowded it gets. There are some limitations, however. You can’t realistically interact with every NPC. They’ll react to your actions when you shove or shoot them, but nothing more.
I also hope there’s a faster way to travel from one tier to the next or that there are more waypoints to eliminate the downtime. More often than not, you’ll be running around vast places, that feel empty at times since you won’t be able to enter and explore most buildings unlike in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. They’re there for the design rather than for the interaction.
Doing missions and visiting certain locations also shows you changes in perspectives from the game’s default top-down angle to a slow, panning side shot. The camera then follows your character as they run across the hallway while gunning down enemies that stand in their way. Such is the case in Tham’s Gate where you traverse the long horizontal area to get to the departure lounge.
What The Ascent does well is it gives you a sense of the arcology’s scale and verticality. It’s quite similar to Nier: Automata’s perspectives but not as in-depth to the point that your playstyle changes entirely. Instead, these shifts focus more on the world-building aspect to show the nuances that make each arcology eccentric.
In terms of the character UI, it’s straightforward and intuitive, which makes it easy to understand and navigate. From a technical standpoint, I noticed stutters when I entered main hubs like Cluster 13. Beyond this, I was able to maintain my Ultra Settings, which runs smoothly most of the time, minus the occasional frame drops when there is just way too much action happening. I did encounter a bug or two in relation to mission progressions but none of them were game-breaking nor annoying to deal with.
The Ascent Review Impressions: Replayability and Multiplayer
The Ascent features a campaign that’ll take 10-15 hours to complete if you only choose to complete main missions. But if you’re aiming to play and to finish the side missions while chasing after most of the loot, you’ll likely end up playing 20+ hours.
In terms of replayability, once you’ve completed each and every mission, there won’t be much to do since it doesn’t have an endgame system like Seasons in Diablo 3. Instead, the replayability factor comes in when you join the sessions of others. The Ascent has both couch co-op and online multiplayer modes, which makes it a good game to play with friends to experience this thrilling, high-action piece of adventure together.
The Ascent Review Impressions: Pricepoint
The Ascent is priced at USD 29.99, which is decent considering the number of hours you’ll spend exploring the huge districts available to you. What makes it more worthwhile is the multiplayer experience that extends your playthrough since you’ll need to coordinate well with one another to stay alive in tough encounters.
Additionally, the game has no microtransactions so you can get every bit of loot through exploration and missions alone. It’s also available on Xbox Game Pass on day one so you can easily grab it from there!
The Ascent Review Impressions: Final Thoughts
The Ascent is its own Action-shooter RPG. It doesn’t try to be the next Diablo, which I appreciate a lot. Instead, it attempts to forge its own path by letting the overall design and combat speak for itself. If you’ve been itching to play a unique ARPG with some familiar mechanics, then this game is for you.
The Ascent is definitely, and without a doubt, a day one purchase because of its engaging, fun and fast-paced combat coupled with its aesthetically pleasing world. Not only is it an impressive milestone for a group of 12 developers, but it’s also a testament of what indie studios can pull off in a decent amount of time, 3 years in this case. I do however, wish there’s more exploration involved, and I’m hoping to see DLCs that expand the universe in meaningful ways in the near future.
Stay tuned for the upcoming The Ascent Beginner’s Guide as well as the Build Guides in the next few days. Be sure to check out our The Ascent Wiki if you have questions on the game. What did you think of this review? Will you be purchasing The Ascent on day one? What builds are you planning to come up with? Let us know in the comments section below!
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